Pivoting For Survival

The story of how The Town Kitchen pivoted to TTK Provisions amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

Background on The Town Kitchen: 

The Town Kitchen, A Public Benefit Corporation uses a unique B2B partnership model to offer turn-key solutions for corporate catering and now residences, while supporting local foster and reentry youth with professional opportunities and higher paying job pathways. In 2019, the Oakland-based company generated 23,543 labor hours—an increase of 114% over 2018—and opened an additional location across the Bay in Redwood Shores. The majority of food is produced in-house, with ingredients and additional products sourced from local women and minority-owned businesses to elevate the local food ecosystem. Eric Quick has been the President & CEO from April 2018 to Present. 

Imagine this, you’re into Q1 firing on all cylinders. You’ve grown your company by 47% in 2019 from 2018, then implemented two $1M accounts in the last 90 days in addition to securing another $300K account in February.

You’re feeling your company is finally hitting its stride and the efforts of the last two years are beginning to pay off. You’re even eyeing profitability this year. Two months in and you’ve hit double digit revenue growth over budget. You have reached your capacity for March and can’t take any more orders for the month and likely for April either.

This sounds more than ideal, doesn’t it? And it was all true for us until 3 weeks ago when the $hit hit the fan. 

The anxiety of COVID-19 hit fast. One of our biggest partners acted swiftly by immediately instructing their teams to work remotely from their SF and Silicon Valley locations. This meant we would no longer be servicing them four days a week. While this impacted us financially, the shock to our organization was deeper. We had a team of dedicated hourly staff for this client that were now out of work. 

In the next 2 days, we lost 50% of our recurring business with another 50% bleeding out over the next 3-4 days. In a matter of ~6 days we went from having our best month in revenue to our bottom dropping out, leaving 40+ hourly workers and 7 salaried leadership speechless and looking for answers. To rub salt in the wound, shelter-in-place guidelines were implemented in the SF Bay Area to ‘flatten the curve”. Fortunately, as a food provider, we were considered an essential service; this meant we could continue operating if we were able to provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees.

The Pivot

We quickly shifted gears. We went from a company that provided meals to companies (B2B food delivery/ catering) to one (www.ttkprovisions.com) that sells groceries and prepared meals direct-to-consumers. As noted in the LinkedInLive episode from March 27th, this was orchestrated and launched in 6 days from idea to reality.

So, this raises the questions: How did we pivot so quickly? How did we get traction so quickly?And what should we do after we launch? Here are my thoughts on what was effective:

Pick a Direction & Act Fast

  • This is not the time for analysis paralysis or striving for the perfect solution. Seek clarity but find comfort with uncertainty. I know this all too well from 15 years of work with Executive Coach Debi Benedetti.

  • Find comfort in knowing you’re going to be wrong. This is similar to any start up and product market fit. It’s a matter of percentages that you’re off from a perfect product market fit. Are we off by 10% or 95%, who cares… It’s an iterative process like any new business getting product market fit, test learn, refine. but the market is shifting daily….which means you need to have your ear to the ground listening for changes, has the selling environment changed? Has the regulatory environment changed? Shelter in place extended? Change is inevitable, plan for it.

Align Team & Purpose Immediately 

  • Create a task force: I appointed Renee Schouten, the General Manager of the new business unit and reorganized two days after the idea to pivot was solicited.

  • Explain the why behind the what. Helped our team understand the reasoning behind the pivot and acknowledged the fact that there will be gray areas. Expressed the need for flexibility and adaptability with each day moving forward. 

  • Don’t micromanage: Support and get out of way. Want to hog the ball, take credit? It will undermine the team's abilities. Not recommended.

Spread Praise & Communicate

  • Be a Player’s Coach: Remove obstacles, brainstorm and enable the new business to find its path.

  • Teamwork is important now more than ever. Be available and accessible for coaching. 

  • Take comfort in sharing what you know with the broader team as much as possible, we're conducting all hands twice per week.

Evaluate for Organizational Friction Points

  • If there appears to be friction, there definitely is. Shifting direction, especially in 6 days, can be very confusing for people. As they say, you need everyone in the right seat on the bus going in the right direction to get the traction. Be patient and compassionate yet firm in the new direction. This is when you’ll see what each of your team’s behavioral styles look like under stress.

  • Listen to what’s not being said. As a brilliant woman in my life (my wife Nina) once said “The presenting problem is never really the problem.” We all have lives outside of work / school and various influences that are informing our current state of mind, especially now. Maybe it’s your new 4th grade cofounder taking zoom calls right beside you that’s causing residual frustrations. Or the fact that you are being cooped up in your house for weeks on end. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of the pandemic and what the future holds for your company? Behind every problem is a complicated webwork of emotions, anxiety and assumptions. While each individual controls their own perspective, you can be a great listener/observer and understand what is likely influencing how they’re showing up. 

What's Working for Me

I’ve been asked how I’m handling the current pandemic situation and can really only explain that ‘I’m numb and acting out of intuition’. My upbringing, family, personal core values, my previous experience at Disney and the work that I’ve done over the last 15 years with an executive coach are what’s helping me through this unprecedented time. 

  • My Family & Friends: What can I say about this...I’ve had amazing support from both my parents, siblings, spouse and kids. While they don’t always know how to help me (I’m an internal processor that needs time to think), they’re there for me when I come out of my think tank and spew out ideas. They listen, sometimes with confused looks on their faces, and usually offer a small piece of perspective that helps with the missing puzzle piece. For our pivot, it was my best friend Jeff who runs a large fruit business that was explaining the lopsided trends they were seeing in retail (40%+ up in revenue) versus food service supply chains (30% down in revenues . This was the trigger point that led us to our pivot as it became clear that there was supply of essentials, but supply levels were out of balance in the retail versus foodservice. 

  • My Disney Experience: While this experience was over 20 years ago, it was foundational and wired into my decision making. Disney taught me to take care of my team and have empathy and compassion for each individual, their backgrounds and their livelihoods. I learned the value of every role and understood how each team member contributed to the overall success of the company. 

  • My Personal Core Values & Work with Executive Coach: Like any professional athlete, corporate athletes need coaches too. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the amazing @Debi Benedetti at Beyond the Possible. Her company’s name seems fitting now more than ever, especially given the new direction with The Town Kitchen and our conviction to thrive through this pandemic. In my early days, she challenged me to solidify my core values and what I stood for. This work has provided a foundation on which to base my decisions on and has kept me in between the lines I have set for myself. 

At the end of all this, I have the fortunate responsibility to help 40+ employees navigate this unwieldy situation. There’s no model or handbook that teaches you how to work with the personalities and emotions of 40+ employees during a pandemic. All in all, each of our situations are different, but our reality remains the same. We need to do the best we can by leveraging our strengths and overcoming our weaknesses while remembering empathy, compassion and support are most critical during this time. Wall Street and investors have short term memories, but the impact your decisions have on individuals lives will last far beyond your cash burn, company growth or earnings. Focus on the survival of the company while helping your employees thrive for the long term. 

Stay Strong My Friends & We’ll get this Through this.


President & CEO The Town Kitchen

Co-Founder & CEO PocketCFO

Don’t wait till it is too late.

Take control of your cash and runway now.

PocketCFO, PBC © 2020

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